Counterfeit Faith of the Beast

The “beast from the earth” mimics the Lamb and, thus, presents a counterfeit of the true faith – Revelation 13:11-18

Augustus - Photo by Nemanja Peric on Unsplash
John saw the second “
beast ascending from the earth” to deceive the “inhabitants of the earth” so they would give their allegiance to the “beast from the sea.” The latter was characterized by its military and political power; the former, by its ability to deceive, and the economic it employed to punish anyone who refused to venerate the first “beast.” - [Augustus - Photo by Nemanja Peric on Unsplash].

The “inhabitants of the earth” rendered homage to the “beast from the sea” and the “Dragon,” but it was the “false prophet” that promoted this idolatrous “worship” and gave it concrete expression when he encouraged the “inhabitants of the earth” to erect an “image” to the first “beast.”

The “beast from the sea” had “ten heads” and “seven horns.” One of the “heads” appeared “slain unto death, and its death-stroke was healed.” The phrase “as having been slain” was applied previously to the “Lamb” (“standing as having been slain”). Likewise, the “beast from the sea” was wounded “and lived,” just as Jesus “died and lived” - (ezésen - Revelation 2:8, 5:6, 13:3-4).

The restoration of the wounded “head” mimicked the death and resurrection of Jesus, and its “resurrection” caused the “inhabitants of the earth” to render homage to the “beast,” thus, it became the counterfeit of the Lamb.

Similarly, the “beast from the earth” had two “horns like a lamb.” It was not identical to the “Lamb,” but it did imitate him. While the “Lamb” had “seven horns,” the “beast from the earth” had “two.” It had the power to summon fire from heaven. It was later identified as the “false prophet,” the satanic counterpart to the “two witnesses” who, likewise, consumed their opponents with “fire from their mouth.”

The “beast from the earth,” the “false prophet,” employed religious devices to direct the “inhabitants of the earth” to erect an image to the first “beast.” But it also used economic coercion to punish anyone who resisted, especially against overcoming saints who, like the three Jewish exiles in Babylon, refuse to render homage to the “image”:
  • (Daniel 3:13-14) – “Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. Then they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, Is it of purpose, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you serve not my god, nor worship the golden image which I have erected
These attempts by the “false prophet” to deceive believers were anticipated in the letters to the “seven churches,” where Jesus warned against “false apostles,” the “Nicolaitans,” the “prophetess Jezebel,” and the “teachings of Balaam.” Thus, the “beast from the earth” was active in the churches. And his attacks were reflected by the economic deprivations inflicted on the congregation in Smyrna - (Revelation 2:2-6, 2:14-15, 16:13, 19:20).

In chapter 13, the stress is on the use of religious deception to trick humanity into giving allegiance to the “beast from the sea.” However, when coercion becomes necessary, his tool of choice is economic control.

The “number of the beast” and its “image” borrow language from the story of the “golden image erected” by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Ancient Babylon, and his demand that all subjects of the empire venerate the image “that I have erected”:
  • (Daniel 3:1-7) – “Nebuchadnezzar made an image… the height thereof sixty cubits, its breadth six cubits… And the king ordered all peoples, races, and tongues to fall down and render homage to the image. Whoever did not render homage to it was slain.”
  • (Revelation 13:14-18) – “And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free and the bond, that there be given them a mark on their right hand or upon their forehead… Six hundred and sixty and six.”
The background from Daniel provides the form for the “number of the beast,” six hundred and sixty-six, and it links the “number” to idolatry. Thus, in Revelationidolatrous religion and political power are inextricably linked.

The height of Nebuchadnezzar’s image was “sixty” cubits, and its width was “six cubits.” The Greek Septuagint version reads hexékonta and hex cubits, the same form of the second two numbers added to “six hundred” in Revelation, which divides the original number into three components based on the number ‘6’ (600 + 60 + 6). This reflects the sexagesimal or 60-base numeral system of Ancient Babylon.

The “number” is figurative. Likewise, the “mark of the beast” is contrasted with the “seal of God” placed on the foreheads of those who follow the “Lamb.” The “mark” or “number” is the satanic counterfeit to the “seal of God” and to the “name of the Lamb” found on the foreheads of his followers - (Revelation 7:1-3, 14:1-4).
In the book, humanity is divided into two groups: Those who “follow the Lamb” and those who take the “mark of the beast.” Total allegiance is given by men to one or the other, and there is NO neutral ground.

Thus, the “beast from the earth” imitates the “Lamb.” It employs a counterfeit of the true faith to deceive men and women. The goal is to destroy the church, either through deception and apostasy or through economic pressure and other forms of persecution - (“It made war against the saints”).

What is described in chapter 13 is most accurately labeled state idolatry, the veneration of a regime, leader, or political institution. And this is an old trick and ancient deceit.

The problem is not the institution of government or even its form, but the situation when a government or politician demands the absolute allegiance that belongs to God alone. History demonstrates that ALL forms of human government are susceptible to this idolatrous practice.

In John’s visions, the marginalized congregations of Asia would have recognized the arrogant pretensions of imperial Rome, especially the demand to venerate the emperor. Local magistrates pressured all citizens to participate in this idolatrous practice, and among other things, they certainly did use economic sanctions against anyone who refused to do so, sanctions that prevented a person or group from full participation in the economic life of the province. And commerce was the lifeblood of the empire.

If there is a lesson for us today, it is that the “beast” will imitate the true faith in order to deceive the “saints.” Its counterfeit will look and feel all too familiar, and most likely, it will direct us to give the allegiance that belongs to Jesus ALONE to a political entity, leader, institution, or government. The best preventative medicine is to give our allegiance to Jesus alone, and daily, to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow him “wherever he goes.”

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